Belfast in 48 hours

2011-11-18 08:00

Why go now? Well, Belfast Music Week traditionally takes place between the end of October and the beginning of November.

This year’s programme reached a crescendo with the MTV Europe Music Awards megabash at the city’s Odyssey Arena.

The Lady Boys of Bangkok, a cabaret show of its own kind, has become a favourite with the locals and always promises a glittering night out.

The Belfast Beer & Cider Festival takes place in the Ulster Hall, and offers more than 100 beers and ciders, pub games and live music.

The Cinemagic International Film & Television Festival for Young People, now in its 21st year, offers more than 100 films from across the world, 60 workshops, competitions and master classes.

In December, the Christmas Fair and Market at St George’s Market offers authentic Irish gourmet food and festive crafts.

The cool temperatures of November never reach below zero, which is ideal for walking in the city, seeing much of the architecture and experiencing the place at first hand.

Belfast is an intriguing city, given its political, cultural and historical background. The city is still on the path of healing following the turbulent events of the religious intolerance that plagued it for years.

Touching down

There are a few direct flights from London Heathrow to Belfast offered by Aer Lingus and easyJet. The most convenient way to get into town is by taxi. The journey time is about 20 minutes and costs £25 (R322).

Get your bearings

Belfast is compact and can be navigated on foot, but there are cabs galore. Most of the top hotels, such as the Hilton, the Europa and the Holiday Inn, are within a 2km radius.

There are more options for out-of-town hotels, B&Bs and lodges.

Check in

Ramada Hotel is about 4kms out of town and has a country feel to it. It is a popular spot for breakfast with the locals. But if you want to be as close as possible to the action and the heartbeat of the city, choose the chain hotels.

Other options include guesthouses, B&Bs, campus and hostel accommodation, self-catering and camp/caravan sites.

Get docked

Belfast’s claim to world prominence is that this is where the great Titanic was built and where it set sail on its maiden voyage.

At this original site, the 100-year-old pump house still stands and has been modernised with technology for an interactive experience.

The guide will give you reasons Belfast was chosen above all the other shipbuilding cities of the day. The guided tour will give you a proper idea of how big the Titanic was and the vision of its owners, the White Star Line.

You get to see the building of the world’s biggest Titanic visitor attraction.The £97 million experience is expected to be visited by 500 000 people by next year.

You can also walk along the slipways where the Titanic was built and launched 100 years ago, and where it first touched water in 1911.

Lunch on the run

Strangely, you will be hard-pressed to find a place that serves authentic Irish cuisine in the city. Instead, what you find in abundance are Indian, Italian and Spanish eateries, and then of course the fast food chains.

Victoria Square, the main mall of the city, has 18 restaurants serving steak, pizza and takeaways.

Cultural afternoon

The Belfast Irish Tourist Experience at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on Falls Road doesn’t disappoint.

Over the three floors of the 20-year-old landmark in the west Belfast skyline, there is a cafe specialising in traditional Irish fare; the book and gift shop stocks an extensive range of Irish-language books and has an eclectic mix of crafts; and the art gallery features a dedicated exhibition space from where you can buy authentic artworks.

A walk in the park

The Botanic Gardens are in the Queen’s Quarter, which houses Queen’s University and is home to the city’s upper middle classes. It is like a mini Central Park with all the strollers, runners and dog-walkers.

Ambling

The walking tours of Belfast take you through 300 years of history as you walk in the original 1660 street layout.

The Victorian architecture is delightful as you walk by the City Hall and the Albert Memorial Clock, also known as the city’s own “Leaning Tower”.

The icing on the cake

If you have an hour and half to kill, take a drive to the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s World Heritage Site. Here you will explore the 40 000 basalt stone columns that were formed by volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago.

The coastal scenery is outstanding, along with the bird life and the flora.

» Mofokeng visited Belfast courtesy of MTV Networks Africa.

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